Making change that lasts
They say ‘change is good' (not sure who ‘they’ are, but let’s take it as a given)… change is good. Given that change is good, and people often have every intention of making changes and sticking with them, why is it so difficult, why do people give up smoking, to start again, lose weight to then gain even more, sign up to the gym and then stop going, agree with another to do things differently only to fall back into old ways of being? One of the main reasons is, people don’t understand and accept the nature of change.
This brief article aims to convey one or two thoughts on change, that I hope will be of use to anyone wanting to make lasting change and stick to it! These thoughts stem mostly from my work as a therapist working with hundreds of addicts and therefore witnessing people making and maintaining life saving changes.
New Year’s resolutions are often just that... they last for the duration of the New Year, even when the intention was for them to last forever. The reason is often because change is sometimes more challenging to maintain than making the initial change in the first place.
People often think of change as a one off event, for example, they might make the decision to get more exercise and then fail to do so for the time period they intended (attend any gym in January, then return in April to see this for yourself). What happens is that the change process is not understood or given enough attention; change is an ongoing decision, not a one off event. It’s a process, not an event… and that’s it really. Once you have done the initial stage or making the change, the next essential and ongoing step in the maintenance stage.
Real and lasting change is often more about how people attend to maintaining the change they want, rather than the initial effort put into change. Below are a few tools and techniques that can be useful in maintaining change (the maintenance stage).
- The change process often loses momentum or stops when you lose motivation. This is why it's important to regularly recall and focus on why you wanted to make the change, get in touch at a deeper level with the consequences of not making the change and consequences of making the change. Write it down! Look at it often, or cut out a picture that sums up the benefits for you or, if you prefer, the consequence of not making the change. This is important. It repeatedly gets you to that place of motivation, where the initial energy can be found that started the change, it’s like making the change again and again, and that keeps it fresh! Many people with an addiction make a commitment to staying in recovery daily, that’s a great way to make it a priority and maintain momentum.
- Don't do it alone, if you keep trying and not succeeding, maybe it's time to enlist some help. For example if you are trying to stop drinking and are failing to stay stopped then maybe an organisation like Alcoholics Anonymous might be the way forward, often people seek help from a counsellor to make and maintain changes. Personal trainers or a friend to go walking with might be the key to keeping you in the maintenance stages of change.
- If you slip backwards with change, learn from it, work out what went wrong, and what lessons are there to be learnt. Questions that might help include; what were the signs that my change was losing its momentum? What do I need to do differently next time? What help might I need to get back on track? And very importantly ask yourself "do I really want this change?”. It might be worth writing these answers down and sharing your findings with someone as they might be able to offer different perspectives.
Good luck with making and most importantly maintaining change.